LOWDOWN Summer 2008 page 11


Michael Errey

It is now forty years ago since the South East Branch of the Basset Hound Club was legalised and given registered status by the Basset Hound Club and the Kennel Club. But an affair was going on for several years before that. The parties use to meet on regular occasions at least one a week and, at times, in most obscure and obsolete locations; causing immense interest to the general public when they came across them.

These carry-ons were brought about by the fact that Norman and Winifred Burgis, who lived just behind the church at Ringmer in East Sussex, had built up a pack of pedigree Basset Hounds in the late 1950’s. These hounds were pure-bred, similar to the Grims hounds raised by Miss Peggy Keevil, and not in any way like the longer-legged version (as a result of crossing with longer-legged breeds), confusingly known as ‘English Bassets’, reared by most of the hunting packs.

The pack of hounds, which at times numbered between ten and fifteen couple, were kennelled behind the Burgis’ house, which was known as ‘Nought’, Church Hill. The reason for this was that it was built by Norman, who was an architect, on a site of land before you got to No.1. It was a typical architects house, with the bedrooms on ground level, the kitchen down below and the lounge upstairs. First class kennels were built in the garden at the back, and constantly improved. A further advantage was that just a few hundred yards down the road was a slaughterhouse, or abattoir as they are now called, from which the hound food came. This was sheep paunches, which have a rather pleasant aroma! Norman, being a particularly generous sort of husband, bought Winnie a wheelbarrow to enable her to push the paunches up the road each day without too much inconvenience.

By the mid sixties, the Burgonet pack was hunting every week in an area between Uckfield and Seaford, with meets even to Stanmer Park in Brighton. These activities required a considerable amount of hunt staff, as meets had to be arranged, farmers and landowners negotiated with, and then, when arrangements had been made, hounds had to be controlled in an area which contained electric railway lines and many main roads - thankfully, no motorways. In order to achieve all this an amateur staff was formed - the term amateur infers only that they were unpaid. The hunt staff at that time consisted of Winifred Burgis, master; Norman Burgis, huntsman; Tom Riley, secretary; Jack Henshaw, Tom Riley and Michael Errey, whippers-in.

A considerable body of regular supporters attended, which included amongst others, Jane Riley, Ann Henshaw, Avril Errey and John and Ann Simms. There regular followers were sufficiently knowledgeable to supply information and support to the hunt staff.

A second wave of followers quickly followed, with names like Roger and Audrey Gambell, the Freeman family, and Ken Izard when he was at home. Many of the supporters, or followers as they are known in hunting parlance, used to come to Ringmer in the summer months, out of the hunting season. These exercises often took place on Ashdown Forest. They gave Basset owners an opportunity to better understand hunting procedures and to enter their hounds. If they reached a higher enough standard they could possibly be invited to come out with the pack hunting. It was a very pleasant way of spending a Sunday morning, or a weekday, and took the hounds away from being disturbed be the church bells - with an enjoyable stop at the local pub on the way back home.

When the thoughts of starting up a branch of the Basset Hound Club came to the fore in late 1967, due to all of the hunting and exercising that had been going on for many years, we had the facilities, by way of personnel lined up, to quickly bring the operation to fruition. Norman Burgis was the founding Chairman, Tom Riley, Secretary, and Michael Errey was Treasurer. It took the BHC and the Kennel Club some time to sanction the formation of the branch, but, later in 1968, we got word through that we had been legitimised along with a large cheque for £25.0s.0d. to get us on our way. This we did and are still within the same learning curve forty years later!

(Ed. Absolutely fascinating. I have checked out ‘Nought’ to see if I could perhaps visit and take some photographs to illustrate Michael’s article. Sadly, the present occupiers tell me that there is no physical evidence at all of the kennels - discovering Winnie’s wheelbarrow would be akin to finding the Grail. It seems that the house is now owned by a property company!!!).

Cover of the Basset Hound Owners Club newsletter Lowdown

hound history ☞

first published in LOWDOWN

editor Tony Roberts